New Chemistry In The Faculty
by Dr David CL Lim (firstname.lastname@example.org)
INTERVIEW WITH PROF DR LATIFAH ABDOL LATIF
DEAN OF THE FACULTY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (FST)
Dr David: Tell us a bit about yourself as an academic
and recently new Dean of the Faculty of Science and
Prof Latifah: I graduated with a Bachelor of Science
(Honours) in Chemistry in 1979 from the University of
Queensland. After working for several months in UM as a
tutor, I went to do my PhD in the University of Sussex in the
fi eld of Organometallic Chemistry and came back to UM as
I held the lecturer and Associate Professor posts during
my tenure from 1984 to 2002. Most of my time was spent
teaching Chemistry to the Matriculation students, and the
rest of my time was allocated for research in Chemistry at
the Science Faculty.
I was awarded a 9-month British Fellowship to carry out
research in Chemistry at the University of Wales in 1997.
In 2002, I was awarded the American Fulbright Fellowship
which I had to forgo because of my appointment to OUM
I came in as an Associate Professor, and in 2003 I was
appointed the Director of the Centre for Student Management
(CSM) which I held for two terms from 2003 to 2009.
In May 2010, I had to relinquish my Directorship due to
my recent appointment as the Dean of FST. Being a Dean
is not that much different from being a Director; both
positions require good skills in planning and managing the
programmes and staff, as well as ensuring that all processes
are in place.
Faculty matters are mostly academic in nature and have
to be dealt with in a stringent manner. As the Dean, my
greatest concern is to make sure that the existing courses
and programmes are relevant and to come up with new
programmes that cater to the interests of working adults.
Since May 2010, the faculty has been given the green light
to go ahead with the preparation of the MQA documents for Master in Occupational Safety Health Management, Master
of Environmental Science and Bachelor in Environmental
Science, which have all been vetted by the respective Boards
The recent announcement on the nine FST programmes that
will be phased out in the September 2010 semester has given
the faculty members some food for thought.
In an ODL environment, programmes that are too technical
and require laboratories are to be avoided, especially when
learner intake is small.
FST will instead develop programmes related to the soft
sciences and mathematics and also programmes that cater
to the communities at large. The faculty is working hard
towards this end.
Dr David: Prior to your present position as Dean of FST,
you were the Director of CSM. Can you share with us the
insights you gained then, in terms of learner retention,
where OUM and other Open and Distance Learning
(ODL) institutions around the world are concerned?
Prof Latifah: While in CSM, my core area of responsibility
was learner retention. While we can take an easy way out
by recruiting more learners every semester (which in reality
is not any easier as learners shop around nowadays), it is
the responsibility of OUM to ensure that enrolled learners
are given the right support so that they can complete their
studies and achieve their goals.
OUM is an ODL institution; the openness in itself inevitably
invites attrition. Now, there are many reasons why learners
leave an institution, and among the most common are
fi nancial, and this is especially critical when learners have
to make the transition from semester one to semester two.
Beyond semester two, most learners who do not register are
those who face personal problems such as not being able to
manage their time, confl icts with family and work demands,
and so on.
Under my directorship, CSM had designed several
programmes to help learners overcome their problems.
These include academic counselling, learning skills
workshops, examination clinics, dialogue sessions for
gathering feedback, and also a call centre to contact dormant
Social activities for the learners are also arranged, such as
sports, recreational as well as academic activities in the form
of seminars, IT competitions, and so on.
Dr David: Sometimes learners drop out for reasons beyond
the control of the university and tutors, such as financial
diffi culties and overwhelming load at work. At the same
time, there must surely be certain factors that the university
and tutors can help where learner retention is concerned.
Can you expand on this?
Prof Latifah: Many factors contribute to learners deciding
to leave a university. They can be grouped under institutional
and personal. Most of the reasons are personal, in which
there is nothing much the university can do to help, except to
provide guidance and advice through counselling sessions.
Institutional factors may not have a direct infl uence but can
contribute to the fi nal decision made by learners. Foremost,
the institution needs to provide effi cient and learner-friendly
services. Being adult learners, they want to be treated with
respect, so it is vital that all interactions between staff and
learners be kept courteous, professional and responsive.
Foremost, the institution needs to provide
effi cient and learner-friendly services.
Staff members also need to show a caring attitude. Sometimes
learners just need someone to listen to them venting their
frustrations. Other than the human touch, OUM’s modules
need to be tip-top, error-free and easy to understand.
Learners should also be closely guided so that they are
familiar with the ODL environment, particularly when it
comes to preparing for online and self-managed learning.
Since many face fi nancial problems, OUM should seek
ways and means of helping them solve their fi nancial issues.
For those who are eligible for PTPTN and EPF withdrawal,
OUM should help them upfront with the applications so as
to avoid delays in getting the funds.
Perhaps the most vital role of the institution in terms of
retaining learners concerns teaching and learning. The
e-learning platform, with all its necessary technological
requirements, should make it easy for learners to access and
navigate the available resources.
Contents should be adequate and useful. They should be
engaging and interesting to sustain learners’ interest in
learning. There should also be suffi cient exercises to provide
learners with formative feedback. As well, there should be
responsive and reliable feedback from tutors concerning
In summary, OUM needs to delight learners and strive
for service excellence. Today’s competitive environment
demands nothing less than excellence in customer services.
Otherwise, we will lose our learners; they will not come
to OUM, and even if they have enrolled with us, they may
Dr David: What advice would you give to tutors who may
or may not be aware that their performance as tutors has
significant bearing on whether their learners complete
their respective programmes or drop out?
Prof Latifah: I see the tutorial sessions as a game carried
out in the fi eld. The learning centre provides the fi eld, and
the players are the learners. In this context, tutors play a
variety of roles: as a referee/regulator, manager, facilitator,
provider, promoter and enforcer in the fi eld of teaching learning.
As a regulator/referee, tutors are to encourage learners to
participate in all activities, be it learning or social. Tutors
help learners manage their time, and help them resolve
their problems, and at the same time provide advice and
The tutors’ main responsibility is to facilitate learning,
whether face-to-face or online. Tutors should at all times
promote learner retention, and should motivate learners all
the way to sustain their drive to achieve.
While tutors are expected to be friendly and caring, they also
ought to be an enforcer of the Code of Ethics. From time to
time, learners need to be reminded about the dos and don’ts
as specifi ed in the University’s rules and regulations.
Dr David: What steps is FST taking to help ensure that
FST learners complete their studies instead of going offcourse
and prematurely exiting the system?
Prof Latifah: The advantage of being a new member of the
faculty is that I can bring about some changes to the faculty.
I would like to see all programme leaders and staff take full
responsibility in ensuring the effectiveness of the courses
run at the faculty.
This means that staff will be monitoring the learning activities
during critical times such as during the fi rst tutorial, midterm
test, submission of assignment and before the fi nal
examination. At the end of the semester, programme leaders
will administer an online course evaluation survey to gather
feedback on all aspects of the courses.
Once we have identifi ed the strengths and weaknesses of the
programmes, the faculty will be able to react accordingly.
The strengths will be used to promote the programme and
the weaknesses will be resolved by refl ecting on what
has been done and what needs to be done to enhance the
Programme review will be a regular feature of special faculty
meetings which are held at the end of every semester, after the
results of learners have been released. This process ensures
that every staff member takes pride and responsibility in
their own programmes and will also promote team spirit,
which is to me critical for the success of the faculty.
Dr David: On science and technology, where do you think
these two overlapping fi elds will go in the next 10 to 20
Prof Latifah: Converging the two areas of science and
technology is a necessity in today’s world. Their applications
are wide in all spheres of activity.
In OUM, both fi elds have been put under one faculty,
namely the Faculty of Science and Technology. I believe
combining the two big disciplines is a necessity because
they share common principles. In order to train the technical
labour force, for example, both scientifi c and technological
principles need to be applied, and it is hard to separate the
Under the present faculty, many new multidisciplinary
programmes are being developed, and presently, the faculty
is focusing on areas such as environment and safety.
The buzz words nowadays are green technology,
environmental sustainability, renewable energy, and so on.
That indicates the importance of environmental aspects of
education and management. Another area that has recently
captured a lot of interest among the labour force is the area
of occupational safety and health.
Every organisation now is required by law to have a
qualifi ed safety and health offi cer. OUM offers the Bachelor
of Occupational Safety and Health Management, while the
Master of Occupational Safety and Health Management is
in the pipeline. We hope to see the Master of Environmental
Studies being offered in January 2011 and the Bachelor of
Environmental Studies in May 2011.
Dr David: Many thanks, Prof Latifah, for sharing with us
your views and insights on the workings of the Faculty.